Health Centre “Hubs” in schools may help regain loast days
2 October 2013
Health Centre “Hubs” in schools may help regain some of the 550,000 lost school days due to asthma every year
Asthma Foundation medical adviser Dr Tristram Ingham says free healthcare for pupils and their families in low-decile schools will help the extensive burden of asthma and respiratory disease in New Zealand, which is strongly related to the effects of poverty. “It is about delivering primary health and support services to the community where it is needed and to break the cycle of poverty,” he said.
The Asthma Foundation strongly endorses the recently proposed initiative by the Post Primary Teachers’ Association national executive to provide health centre “hubs” in secondary schools in areas of high-need. The Asthma Foundation, New Zealand’s leading authority on asthma and other respiratory conditions, is committed to reducing social inequalities – especially reducing poverty, better housing, and improving access to primary health care for all New Zealanders.
“School-based health support for chronic conditions (such as asthma) should be an integral feature of both primary and secondary schools nationwide”, says Dr Ingham.
New Zealand children lose 550,000 school days due to asthma. These children have a predicted lower educational achievement and can place a major burden on their family. The link between poverty and respiratory conditions is well documented. With access to healthcare a barrier for many, especially for those with lower socioeconomic status and the traditionally under serviced population groups such as Māori and Pacific, providing health care in school means that students will have qualified support with health issues at school, freeing teachers up to educate.
School-aged children spend up to a third of their waking lives at school and asthma can be a serious, and life-threatening condition if not managed effectively. A tragic example of this was the recent death of Hawke's Bay Year 12 student Wiremu Rawiri from an asthma attack in August. The Te Aute College student had a severe attack at his school hostel, and died despite paramedics' efforts to save him.
In a recent study funded by the Asthma Foundation, Māori health researcher Bernadette Jones from the University of Otago Wellington found a number of important issues in the identification and management of tamariki (children) with asthma in schools. “While teachers and school staff do their best, they are often not equipped or trained to recognise the signs of asthma, help children avoid triggers, or use their inhalers to prevent asthma attacks,” she said.
In Australia in August this year the shock death of an eight-year-old Sydney boy at school prompted the government to provide $10.5 million for emergency asthma training and awareness in schools.
Many countries, including Australia, USA, and Canada have introduced initiatives to reduce the excessive loss of schooling due to asthma, by providing specific ‘asthma support programmes’ for schools. Currently New Zealand has no nationally funded or systematic programme for asthma support in schools, with the burden of asthma management during school hours falling mainly on parents and school staff who are untrained and unsupported in asthma management techniques.
“We can’t afford to get complacent and think that just because asthma is common, that it isn’t dangerous. Health professionals need to be linking in with parents, school staff, and teachers this spring to ensure that all asthmatic children have an asthma plan for both school and home, and are well supported to avoid their triggers and use their inhalers regularly” says Dr Ingham.
The Asthma Foundation is committed to reducing hospital admissions caused by asthma and other respiratory conditions by 25%, by 2025 through advocacy, research, training and by providing support for our 16 affiliated asthma societies nationwide. For more information and resources, visit the Asthma Foundation’s website www.asthmafoundation.org.nz.